Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Matthew Norman: Blair will always remain a pariah

Two days from now, the spirit of the newly deceased Erich Segal will hover over the Queen Elizabeth Centre when Mr Tony Blair makes his feverishly awaited appearance before the Chilcot inquiry.

A love story between a cocky, preppy Frat Boy with Roman numerals after his name and his feisty yet adoring social climbing inamorata will again be dissected. And for the latter, self-love will still mean never having to say you're sorry.



What fresh revelatory nuggets Sir John and the gang tease from Mr Blair will be conflated into front-page headlines, but expect no serious blunders from him. As adept at legalistic flim-flam as his great mate Bill Clinton, he has been staying up until 3am to prepare for this ordeal, we're assured, anticipating every imaginable line of enquiry and rehearsing every possible reply in finest detail.



Recalling that he had to be woken soon after midnight to be told that the invasion of Iraq had begun, you may detect a vicious little irony here. That he could sleep peacefully as his troops went into harm's way then, but dare not sleep when poised to explain why now, is an indecently cute vignette of a warped morality.



That war continues to be fought by proxy, of course, its battle lines so rigidly drawn that you can confidently predict the reaction to his testimony without having heard him take 10,000 words to repeat that everything's peachy because he sincerely believed whatever he said he sincerely believed at the time.



From my side of the argument, and probably yours, cries of "delusional maniac", "bare-faced liar" and "taxi to The Hague" will ring out. On the opposing side, that elite corps of commentators who cleave to his and Alastair Campbell's version will stick to their guns. These heroic armchair warriors, whose refusal to admit they were wrong so touchingly mirrors Mr Blair's, will reiterate their belief in his bona fides and that "democratic" Iraq is a much nicer place to live than under Saddam.



It's not one I'd feel secure making to the relatives of the perhaps half a million civilians who died as a result, or even to the millions denied food, water, electricity, education, medicine and other staples of civil society they lost in the war, but it's an argument. It's the identical argument Mr Blair and his cabal of staunch loyalists have been making for six years. And our counter-argument hasn't changed one iota in essence either.



So unflinchingly true to the form is this debate that it qualifies as postwar introspection's answer to the haiku. It also reminds me of a coach ride through the Atacama. After six hours, the predictability of the desert terrain becomes oddly entrancing, and every tiny change to the vista a visceral thrill. But Christ, you're thankful when the journey ends.



For Mr Blair, the journey will not end on Friday, or when the inquiry publishes its findings. However damning these appear, however transparent the intent to cast him as a deceitful warmonger, they will be written in the language of euphemism, thus allowing each side to claim a victory of sorts. For Mr Blair, in fact, the trek can never end. Even if he is as canny in his choice of foreign destinations as he is with his answers on Friday, and avoids any Pinochet-type indignity, much less a war crimes trial, he is must trudge through his remaining days as a pariah.



This, it seems to me, is justice. It isn't a modern form of quick-fix justice, as would be evidenced by front-page pictures of him being led into a Dutch courthouse, and then led out of it to a cell. Erich Segal, who moonlighted as a professor of classics, might confirm that this is justice ancient Greece style, in which the offence of Olympian arrogance – of confusing one's puny self with a deity – was punished by something even more agonising than global humiliation or a lengthy spell in jug. The penalty from which death alone can free Mr Blair is soul-crushing futility. For the rest of his life, he must push the boulder of his self-proclaimed innocence and self-protested good intent up the hill, aware that he cannot reach the summit but powerless to evade the pointlessness of trying.



On the surface, he couldn't care less. The only rational purpose to his interview with Fern Britton, when he pretty much admitted that regime change motivated him all along, and that he'd have been just as happy dreaming up justifications for that if required, was to trumpet his insouciant unconcern. He was giving the finger to the notion of legality itself. I wanted Saddam removed because I judged it right, ran the subtext. Petit bourgeois notions such as international law are for the little people, where I was a Titan. But then so was Prometheus. Mr Blair also played with fire, and so there will forever be eagles pecking at his liver.



Yesterday's revelation that he will earn a reported £200,000 a day for making geopolitical speeches to a hedge fund best known until now for the money it made betting on the failure of Northern Rock needlessly confirmed this staggeringly defiant attitude. The timing of the announcement was as crude as the symbolism of its content. Whatever impertinences these Chilcot jokers subject me to, his message must be: "I'll be coining it in more than ever. So yaboo sucks to the whole stinkin' lot of ya."



You cannot fault his consistency. What proportion of the income received for his memoirs and after-dinner speeches in America devolves directly from his status as junior war leader is impossible to quantify, but it must be many millions. If he earns a few million more from a firm that benefited from the economic catastrophe overseen by Labour, he is loyal to his own avarice in profiting from his own mismanagement.



If all that money offers him solace, acting as his comfort blanket as he tosses and turns in the desolate small hours tweaking his answers to the questions he expects on Friday, so be it. For all the braggadocio, the sunken eyes and haunted expression betray his fear of arrest, and even more so his awareness of the loathing felt for him here and around the world. He may or may not be tortured on Friday by the Furies, as represented by the parents of troops killed in Iraq, but he will be tormented until the only Judgment Day he tells us means anything to a demigod whose stature far transcends the insolent judgments of mankind. If he leaves for a well-guarded gated community in the United States or Australia, he will be an exile. If he stays to flit between his many homes in England, he will be an outcast in his own land. Robert Harris brilliantly portrayed him as The Ghost in his excellent novel of that name. Now he looks more like one of The Undead.



Intriguing and electrifying as Friday's cross-examination will probably prove, it will be no more relevant to the future of Tony Blair than to the dead of Iraq. He can never escape the verdict of what Harriet Harman called the court of public opinion. That was returned long before other erstwhile colleagues, like Jack Straw and all those dry old mandarins, plunged in their stilettos. Nothing unearthed or concluded by this enquiry, those yet to come, or any other power on earth can change that.

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